Horse thieves and gambling during the early days
(Lawrence County, Alabama)
Col. Edmond Saunders
written ca. 1890s
In old times we had, also, a confederacy of horse thieves, which gave the people much trouble. The league was well organized, as you will perceive by the following story: A Mr. McDaniel, who lived near Oakville, had a fine horse, which was stolen. He pursued the thief and found him and his horse in West Tennessee. He brought them back to Moulton and put the man on trial before two magistrates.
Moulton, Lawrence County, Alabama
Trick helped escape
The prisoner was a very decent looking man, of middle age, who was dressed neatly. McDaniel could prove that the prisoner sold the horse, but he had been so altered by the new cut of his mane and tail, that there was difficulty in proving his identity. There were about twenty witnesses, and about equally divided in opinion on this point.
Front and east side of the Bird House (Peebles-Bird House) on the north side of Highway 20, Lawrence County, Alabama – This rare, full two-story log house was built around 1820 for the Peebles family. (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Mantelpiece of the Bird House (Peebles-Bird House) on the north side of Highway 20 in Courtland, Lawrence County, Alabama (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
At length, McDaniel stepped forward and informed the court that he had taught his horse some tricks, amongst them to put his forefeet, when bid, on a stump,: and was willing to abide by this test. The court agreed to witness the ordeal, and the whole company passed out of the court house. in some excitement and confusion, during which the prisoner was separated from the sheriff, mounted one of the horses hitched to the rack outside the court yard, and rode rapidly down the Tuscaloosa road.
There were, at least, a hundred mounted men in town that day. The “ hue and cry” was raised, and instant pursuit made. Such a sweepstake I never witnessed before. The cavalcade in starting was scattered all the way from the square to Spring Hill. impatience to hear the result, and after awhile the pursuers, one by one, began to drop in.
When the full report was made, it appeared that the prisoner was superbly mounted on a filly which could beat any horse in the field, and had easily escaped. The question was then asked, to whom she belonged! But it turned out that no person had lost a horse that day; that the filly had been placed by one of his gang for the purpose of enabling the prisoner to escape, and there being no strangers in town but him, that day, that we had members of his gang in our own county. This disclosure opened the eyes of our people; every good man, after this, became a detective, and they were watched so closely, that we had but little trouble afterward.
Gambling was common
I must concede, also, that the vice of gambling was much more common than it is now. For many years the professional gamblers fleeced the green young men of the county of their money, and they could not be punished, on account of the difficulty of proving that money was bet in the game.
David Hubbard, Esq., who had been solicitor for many years, and knew exactly where the shoe pinched, procured the passage of an act, when he became a member of the Legislature, dispensing with the proof that money was actually bet when a game of cards was played in a public place. This has been effectual in subduing the evils, except in private rooms.